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Originally published December 6, 2012 at 7:22 PM | Page modified December 7, 2012 at 6:02 AM

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Bedbugs found in UW library books

Bedbugs have been hitching rides on library books. The University of Washington has had a couple of cases, but other area libraries say they've been lucky so far.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Bedbugs hitching rides in books? Yep, and it's happening here.

A New York Times piece about bedbugs and other crawly creatures showing up in library books says the problem is occurring across the country — including at the University of Washington.

The article quotes Stephanie Lamson, head of preservation services at the University of Washington Libraries, saying she has put bug-infested books in plastic bags and then into freezers to kill the critters.

Lamson said twice in August, circulation-desk employees at the UW Libraries saw insects crawling in returned books. She immediately put the books in a freezer in the natural-history museum, at temperatures of minus 18 degrees Fahrenheit.

Lamson said she chose cold, rather than the heat treatments used by some other libraries, because heat can accelerate a book's aging.

A spokeswoman for Seattle Public Library, Andra Addison, said she was not aware of any cases of bedbugs in Seattle library books.

Bill Ptacek, director of the King County Library System, said he had not heard of bedbugs in county library books either, but that exterminators the system has used in its building maintenance have been alerted to be ready in case the bugs do show up.

"We know they can be a real problem," he said.

The New York Times article said that reading in bed, once considered a relatively safe pastime, may now be a riskier proposition.

Tiny bedbugs and their eggs can hide in the spines of hardcover books. The bugs can crawl out at night to feed.

John Furman, the owner of Boot-a-Pest, a team of bedbug exterminators based on Long Island, N.Y., said he has had hundreds of clients buy a portable heater called PackTite to kill bedbugs, baking any used or borrowed book as a preventive measure before taking it to bed.

Pest-control experts say the bugs are increasingly moving from homes, dorms and other lodging to settings like retail stores, offices and libraries, migrating not only in book spines, but also on patrons or their belongings.

And some librarians are not only confronting the public-relations challenges in their communities, but trying to get ahead of the problem rather than hiding its existence.

Forty-eight hours after a patron complained of being bitten by a bedbug in a lounge chair at a library in Wichita, Kan., Cynthia Berner Harris, the library's director, brought in a bedbug-sniffing dog to pinpoint problem areas. Later, she heat-treated all of the furniture in public areas, in addition to removing the infested chairs.

Sue Feir, the library director of Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., alerted patrons about what she called the library's "localized bedbug problem" in an email blast that was also posted online.

After someone was bitten in a chair, Feir took the chair outside, ripped off the fabric underneath and found more bedbugs. She called a pest-control company, which put the library's furniture in a trailer and heated it to 130 degrees Fahrenheit for an hour, a strategy she touted in her email as the best way of "pulverizing their eggs."

Material from The New York Times was used in this report.

Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or jbroom@seattletimes.com

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